Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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1913 Scripps-Booth Rocket
V-2 cylinder engine, air-cooled, 35 cubic inches displacement, 10 horsepower

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Inexpensive cyclecars, as the name suggests, often used motorcycle engines like the V-2 in this Scripps-Booth prototype. The air-cooled motor meant there was no need for water or a radiator, while the splash lubrication system eliminated the necessity for an oil pump. The prototype’s engine is mounted with its crankshaft parallel to the rear axle, simplifying the belt connections between transmission and wheels.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
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I’ve already shared some thoughts on the 2017 North American International Auto Show, but one important new car wasn’t yet revealed during my visit last week. Of course, I’m talking about the Lego Batmobile from Chevy.

My tastes in bat-transportation run more traditional, but Chevy has something going for it here. The Lego Batmobile’s 20,000-horsepower rating makes it eight times as powerful as the Goldenrod land speed racer. Likewise, the V-100 engine’s 60.2-litre displacement is more than eight and a half times what it took for the Mark IV to win at Le Mans fifty years ago. The Lego Batmobile’s styling achieves that rare combination of aerodynamic and exquisite, certain to turn heads on every street corner. Be sure to order the optional bat hood ornament – superior to anything by Lalique. (Besides, everybody knows that bats eat dragonflies.)

Granted, the Lego Batmobile’s $48,000,000 price tag is roughly 1,116 times larger than that of the Bugatti Royale, but choose the extended 84-month financing plan and your monthly payment is a reasonable $571,430. (Pro tip: Take advantage of the 0% financing – trust me on this.) The Lego Batmobile is a personal car for every personality – whether you’re feeling vengeful, groovy, hoarse, or just plain indefensible.

Indeed, the Chevrolet’s Lego Batmobile may only have one strike against it – I’m told that it handles like a ton of bricks.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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1930 Ford Model A
Inline 4-cylinder engine, L-head valves, 201 cubic inches displacement, 40 horsepower

Painting engine blocks is a long-standing tradition among automakers. In the 1960s, Ford favored blue while Chevrolet preferred orange. But green was Ford’s color of choice when this Model A came off the line. The black enameled pipe, running diagonally along the block just below the carburetor, returns surplus oil from the valve chamber back to the crankcase.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
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Life is often a juggling act of work, play and family. While current-day clothiers experience the trials and tribulations of being small-town entrepreneurs in the big business of fashion, more than 100 years ago many women were facing similar circumstances, leaning on their sense of style to furnish a living.

In the late 1800s, Elizabeth Cohen had run a millinery store next to her husband’s dry goods store in Detroit. When he died and left her alone with a young family, she consolidated the shops under one roof. Living above the store, she was able to run a business and earn a living while staying near her children.

Cohen leveraged middle-class consumers’ growing fascination with fashion, using mass-produced components to create hats in the latest styles and to the individual tastes of customers. To attract business, resourceful store owners like Mrs. Cohen displayed goods in storefront windows and might have advertised through trade cards or by placing advertisements in newspapers, magazines or city directories.

“While Mrs. Cohen was more likely following fashion than creating it, it did take creativity and design skill,” Jeanine Head Miller, curator of domestic life at The Henry Ford, said of Cohen’s millinery prowess. “She was a small maker connecting with local customers in her community — a 19th-century version of Etsy, perhaps, but without the online reach.”

And she certainly gained independence and the satisfaction of supporting her family while selling the hats she created from the factory-produced components she acquired. “People can appreciate the widowed Elizabeth Cohen’s balancing act,” added Miller, “successfully caring for her children while earning a living during an era when fewer opportunities were available to women.” 

Jennifer LaForce is a writer for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally appeared in the June-December 2016 issue.
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One of the challenges of digitizing our collection is that we can’t just work on brand-new artifacts—we’re also always updating our records for already-digitized items.  A change might be as “simple” as refining a date based on new research, or adding a description of the artifact for context.  For imagery, we have to account for the fact that camera technology advances at an astounding rate. Photos that we considered top of the line 10 or 15 years ago now may not meet today’s baseline standards.

An artifact we’ve just rephotographed, in honor of Black History Month, is the Rosa Parks Bus. Using the latest lighting, photography equipment, hardware, and software, Photographer Rudy Ruzicska and Digital Imaging Specialist Jillian Ferraiuolo recently took new images of the bus, including this shot, which features Rosa’s seat right in the middle of the picture. 

To see all of the new images, visit the Rosa Parks Bus record in our Digital Collections.  You’ll also be able to check out two new 360-degree views of the bus, one from Rosa’s seat, and one from the driver’s seat, to get up close and personal with this iconic Civil Rights artifact.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.

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1926 Rolls-Royce New Phantom Limousine
Inline 6-cylinder engine, overhead valves, 468 cubic inches displacement, 108 horsepower

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Rolls-Royce’s New Phantom engine, introduced in 1925, featured twin ignition with two spark plugs in each of its six cylinders. Those cylinders were cast in two sets of three, coupled by a one-piece cylinder head. Great Britain taxed automobiles based on cylinder bore. To reduce its tax penalty, the New Phantom engine was “undersquare” with its 4¼ -inch bore smaller than its 5½-inch stroke.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
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1931 Duesenberg Model J
Inline 8-cylinder engine, double overhead camshafts, 420 cubic inches displacement, 265 horsepower

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The Duesenberg is a beautiful automobile, and under the hood there’s plenty of go to match the show. The straight-8’s four valves per cylinder and duplex carburetor helped it pump out an enormous amount of horsepower for the time. (Later supercharged versions produced an astounding 320 horsepower!) The Model J could break 100 miles per hour without breaking a sweat.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
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In the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to study at The Henry Ford through the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.” I had applied for two NEH programs that spring, one in Boston and the other at The Henry Ford. As a history major, I was very excited about the idea of Boston. Being a Michigan resident, I had been to The Henry Ford numerous times in my life and I "knew" what was there. I knew I would be happy with either location and a week of studying history is pretty much what history nerds want, right?! 

I was honored to get the letter inviting me to The Henry Ford even if I was a little disappointed that I would not spend three weeks in Boston. I was somewhat concerned because as I left school in June, I knew that my schedule for the next school year was World History and AP European History - not necessarily classes that I thought related to Michigan or the collection at The Henry Ford. 

Was I in for a surprise. My week at The Henry Ford blew me away. Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory offered social, economic, and political history for the US and technological artifacts that directly related to the worldwide Industrial Revolution. I came back to school with images of technologies that had propelled the world into the modern era and new ideas of how to share those images with my students. On top of the sheer number artifacts, the staff of The Henry Ford also put together a collection of speakers with expertise beyond any I had studied before. 

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Learning about steam engines with Chief Curator Marc Greuther.

That first year back I did not have the time or the resources to take my students to The Henry Ford, but I showed clips and shared my experiences. In 2015 I was given the opportunity to teach AP US History and my main goal was to get my students to the museum and village. With the help of a grant from The Henry Ford my first class of 40 AP US History students got to spend a day at both locations. We spent the morning in the rain wandering around the village and seeing the buildings and pieces of history.  The afternoon was warmer and drier and we were able to wander through the museum and see artifacts that we were reading about in the classroom. 

In 2016 the interior design teacher and I brought two buses of students to see the village and we wandered through time, seeing the changes in American life from the colonies to the 1920s. We rode the train and watched as The Henry Ford’s artisans showed how everyday items were created with past technology. With both visits, my time at the workshop came flooding back. I could share with my students details about the buildings, artifacts, and museum history that are not available to just any visitor.  I felt like I took them on a journey through time. Both years I was able to use the trip to make connections that would have been more abstract without those personal experiences. More than half of my students had never been to the village or museum before this trip.  

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NEH teachers learn by doing on the Weiser Railroad in Greenfield Village. 

I asked some students to share their experiences and here is what a few had to say.

"Throughout the field trip I enjoyed seeing many historical buildings that contributed to American History. I didn't think I would ever get a chance to see the laboratory where the Wright Brothers did their famous work. I had seen pictures of their workshop when I created a project on them in middle school. Overall a great experience."

"It was fascinating to actually see the stuff that we read about in textbooks. The Thomas Edison exhibit was interesting because there was indoor electricity but still had an outhouse. "

"I mean personally for me, it was just amazing to see things and stuff that didn't even originate in Michigan. The fact everything there is kept as detailed and accurate as possible amazes me. The old style homes were crazy and definitely reflected the location they belong in in their architectural design.  So simply put it was a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot about not just our state, but others and see the different technological advancements."

My last day at The Henry Ford my family came down to visit and we spent an extra day taking our daughters around the museum and village. Needless to say, we left with a family membership and have been back at least three times a year since. We have shared the experience with friends and family and watched the World Series of Historic Baseball and ice skated during the Christmas festivities. We saw Gridiron Glory and grooved to the Beatles in The Magical History Tour. It is our day trip destination of choice.  

Leah Markey is a Social Studies Teacher at Heritage High School in Saginaw. Mich.

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Last summer, our 2016 Edsel B. Ford Design History Fellow, Meredith Pollock, investigated materials in our collection related to Edsel and Eleanor Ford’s philanthropy, including a thread concerning the NAACP. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded February 12, 1909, on the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.  The goal at the time, as the NAACP’s website notes, was to “secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law and universal adult male suffrage, respectively.”

Judge Ira W. Jayne of the third judicial circuit of Michigan reached out to Eleanor Ford for a donation to the Detroit branch of the NAACP in 1922.  In a letter we’ve just digitized, Jayne calls the organization “the most intelligent and wholesome effort for and in behalf of the betterment of race conditions in the country today” and notes that his “knowledge of [Eleanor’s] interest in fair play for the under man has prompted this letter.”  Jayne did succeed in his goal—a reply two weeks later from Edsel Ford calls the NAACP’s goals “commendable” and includes a donation for $100.

Visit our Digital Collections to view more artifacts related to the NAACP

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.

Corvettes in the Car Court

January 31, 2017
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Visitors to Henry Ford Museum will notice something new in the Car Court at the center of our Driving America exhibit: a striking Chevrolet Corvette C6.R race car, on loan from our friends at the GM Heritage Center.

America’s sports car has a long and successful history on the race track, and this model – adapted from Corvette’s sixth styling generation – is no exception. From 2005 through 2013, C6.R racers racked up victories at France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as at the 12 Hours of Sebring and numerous other American Le Mans Series events.

Through May 2017, we’ll have the C6.R on display in a spot where it ought to feel right at home, between our own collection of record-setting race cars and our production version of Chevrolet’s 1955 Corvette. It’s a proud addition to Driving America.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.